Tim Lincecum

Let us not freak out about free agent salaries, OK?

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I feel like people freak out a little bit every fall and winter when the first couple of free agents sign. The dollars get announced and the reaction is some form of “wow, what an overpay!” and “if [Player X] gets that, [Player Y] is going to get insane dollars!” We’ve seen a little bit of that in the wake of last night’s Tim Lincecum signing, with people’s reactions ranging from merely raising an eyebrow to being fully gobsmacked.

I’m in more of the eyebrow-raised camp. It’s probably a bit of an overpay given Lincecum’s performance over the past couple of years (though it is a pay cut). It’s also a bit of a gamble inasmuch as, a decent strikeout rate notwithstanding, there is no guarantee that Lincecum will be a front line starter ever again. Or even an average one. We’re now more than two years past the last good Lincecum season and more than four years past the truly dominant Lincecum still stuck in our head. He could be Barry Zito redux in performance, if not in contract duration, for the rest of his career.

But we should probably limit our response to the dollars involved to raised eyebrows and wait a few months before truly committing to a reaction. Both to Lincecum’s deal and the deals of other free agents this winter. Because the changing financial structure of baseball is rendering the sorts of deals we once considered to be crazy fairly run-of-the-mill these days.

Yes, $35 million for two years is an awful lot of money. But you know what else is an awful lot of money? The $30-$40 million (estimated) each team will be getting each year from new national television deals with ESPN, Fox and TBS. That is, $30-$40 million for doing absolutely nothing. That’s before you add on increases in local deals many teams are experiencing and the overall trend of rising revenues across Major League Baseball. A trend that the San Francisco Giants and their nearly-full ballpark are taking pretty decent advantage of.

We’re not in the same financial world in which we found ourselves in 1992, 2004 or even just a couple of years ago. Teams have more money to spend and, thanks to restrictions on how much amateur talent can be paid, they have fewer places to spend it. It makes perfect sense, then, that the price of an average pitcher with some upside (or any number of other free agents who will soon sign) will be a lot higher than it used to be. As such, the dollars that used to only go to the best of the best will now be going to the middle of the pack. The superstar dollars will go way, way up too.

Despite this dynamic, I feel that fan and, in some cases, media reaction to these understandable increases is still stuck in 1992, 2004 or even just a couple of years ago. It sort of reminds me of my dad who, whenever gas prices go up, reacts as if it were still 1959 and, dadgummit, gas shouldn’t be more than twenty-five cents a gallon. As if the price of any commodity, be it gas, foodstuffs or elite baseball players shouldn’t be expected to rise in the face of scarcity and increased demand.

Anyway: it’s possible that the Lincecum deal will look bad in a few months or a year from now. It’s also possible that this deal is simply what a player of Lincecum’s caliber — adjusting for the short-length of the deal and his status as a fan favorite — can be expected to command. Whatever happens with him, though, we need to remember that player salaries are going up for rational reasons and that the definition of a massive deal in 2013-14 is not the same as it was even a few short years ago.

Dee Gordon reinstated from PED suspension

Miami Marlins' Dee Gordon celebrates after hitting a double against the Detroit Tigers in the ninth inning of a baseball game Tuesday, April 5, 2016, in Miami. Derek Dietrich scored on the double. The Tigers won 8-7. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
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The Miami Marlins have reinstated second baseman Dee Gordon from his suspension.

Gordon, of course, has missed the last 80 games while serving his drug suspension. He’s coming off a minor league rehab assignment and will be the everyday second baseman for the contending Marlins. He was hitting .266/.289/.340 with three doubles, two triples, five RBI, 13 runs scored, and six stolen bases in 97 plate appearances when he was popped. He was replaced by Derek Dietrich, who hit a nice .275/.366/.398 with 22 extra-base hits, 30 RBI, and 26 runs scored in 314 PA in Gordon’s absence, so don’t expect a tremendous upgrade at second down the stretch, even if they get a nice upgrade in the utility and depth department.

To make room for Gordon, the Marlins designated utilityman and sometimes hero Don Kelly for assignment. Sad jams.

Chris Sale called “a competitor” for stuff that gets most guys called “head cases”

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 12:  Chris Sale #49 of the Chicago White Sox reacts during the 87th Annual MLB All-Star Game at PETCO Park on July 12, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Chris Sale has had an eventful week.

On Saturday he was scratched from his start and subsequently suspended for five games for cutting up the 1976 throwback uniforms the team was scheduled to wear, making them unusable. That cost the team over $12,000 and cost the Sox their best pitcher hours before game time.

On Monday Sale gave an interview to Scott Merkin in which he apologized to fans and teammates and explained his rationale for the uniform shredding. Even if his act was over the top, there was a core of understandable motivation at least: Sale said he voiced his displeasure with the untucked jersey months ago and asked to not pitch on a night they’d have to wear them because he believed it would mess with his mechanics and/or mental state. The Sox didn’t heed his request and Sale took issue, as many probably would, with what he felt was the business of throwback jerseys taking precedence over on-the-field stuff.

Of course, there are still some pretty big problems here. Mostly having to do with the facts that (a) the Sox have people on staff who could’ve optimized his jersey any way he needed it to be optimized if he had asked; (b) ballplayers have been wearing throwbacks for a long time now and, even if they don’t like them, they tend to endure them; and (c) he’s a ballplayer who needs to suck things up sometimes like every single ballplayer ever has done. There are a ton of things ballplayers are expected to do which are insisted upon by the business folks. It’s part of the gig.

A little more seriously than that is the fact that Sale pretty publicly threw his manager, Robin Ventura, under the bus :

“Robin is the one who has to fight for us in that department,” Sale said. “If the players don’t feel comfortable 100 percent about what we are doing to win the game, and we have an easy fix — it was as easy as hanging up another jersey and everyone was fine. For them to put business first over winning, that’s when I lost it.”

An undercurrent to all of this is Sale being fairly obvious in voicing his desire to be traded.

Today Bob Nightengale of USA Today has a story about Sale’s week. It’s sourced largely by Sale’s friend Adam Eaton who defends Sale as a passionate competitor who just wants to win and how all of this stuff of the past week was about his desire to do so. The headline of the story buys in to all of that:

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We heard much the same along these lines when Sale blasted Sox brass following the Drake LaRoche stuff during spring training, going on an expletive-filled rant in a meeting behind closed doors but then bringing the same noise, albeit cleaned up, in front of reporters after it all became public.

Chris Sale is who he is, of course, and I’m not going to too harshly judge who he is. He’s an amazing pitcher and, as most athletes will tell you, the mental part of the game is almost as important or, maybe, even more important than the physical part. Asking Sale to be who he isn’t would probably be counterproductive in the long term.

But I am fascinated with the way in which someone who has behaved like Sale has behaved is described. He’s a “competitor” whose objectively disruptive and literally destructive behavior is explained away as merely a function of his desire to win. His friends on the team, like Eaton, are sought out for damage control and spin and his detractors, which there are likely some, aren’t quoted, even anonymously. He has publicly called out his manager as not wanting to win as much as he wants to please his bosses and he has likewise called out his manager’s bosses and has welcomed a trade, yet we aren’t seeing stories about how that’s a bad thing for the Sox’ clubhouse.

I don’t much care for that sort of stuff, actually, as I suspect most clubhouse controversy stories are somewhat overblown and overly dramatized. But those stories have been go-to tropes of sports writers for decades, and I am trying to imagine this sort of story about players who aren’t Chris Sale. Players who don’t have as friendly a relationship with the media as he has or who don’t have clubhouse allies who do. I feel like, most of the time, a story about a guy who who has done the odd things Sale has done both this week and last March would play a hell of a lot differently.

How does this all play of it’s Yordano Ventura? Or Yasiel Puig? Or Jose Fernandez? How does this play if it took place in the NBA and it was Kevin Durant who shredded up a bunch of short-shorts on 80s throwback night? How does it play if it’s Cam Newton?

I bet it plays differently.